It seems good things come in threes for Hockey Canada.
There are three important steps in our Program of Excellence, three maple leafs on the retro jerseys worn by our players at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as 300 alumni and friends who attended a hot stove session over brunch as part of the POE’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
The Jan. 2 event, one of several special alumni activities held in conjunction with the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, Alta., featured a players panel made up of World Junior Championship gold medallists, Dave Chyzowski (1990), Todd Harvey (19), Mike Moller (1982) and Steven Rice (19), along with a builders panel consisting of Canadian Hockey League president David Branch, former Hockey Canada president Murray Costello and current Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.
“You could hear a pin drop, people were so tuned in, just hanging on every word,” Chris Bright, executive director of the Hockey Canada Foundation, said of the mid-day meal held at the Westin Calgary. “It was just a wonderful hot stove lounge.”
The panel discussed how the Program of Excellence “came to life” back in 1982, and how it has since grown into a hockey development system well-respected around the world for refining the country’s best players and turning them into gold-medal winning teams
“Murray Costello really talked about how government dollars were crucial,” Bright said. “David Branch talked a lot about how it was really tough, in the beginning, to get CHL teams to release their players for that long of a period.”
The hot stove was followed by a tour of Hockey Canada’s new home at WinSport Canada, including the organization’s state-of-the-art office, Team Canada dressing room facilities and impressive trophy room known as the Hall of Champions.
“We were in the Hall of Champions, where all the World Junior plates are, and at first everyone was just appreciative of being in the facility,” Bright recalled. “As we got more comfortable being there, five-to-ten minutes later, the plates were coming off the trophy shelves and guys were taking pictures like they were 18, 19 years old.”
Highlights of the Program of Excellence’s 30th anniversary celebrations also included the welcoming dinner Dec. 31, which featured watching Canada edge the United States 3-2 on the big screen, followed by seeing Sweden beat Russia 4-3 in overtime live at the Saddledome, during 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary action.
Upwards of 70 National Junior Team alumni also had the opportunity to mix and mingle with the 2012 Canadian contingent Jan. 1 at a private event in Calgary, which Bright said gave the former and current players alike the feeling that “something special is really happening for them.”
The National Junior Team alumni and about 10 influential hockey builders also gathered on the team benches for the first intermission of Canada’s semifinal game against Russia, where they were treated to a video produced by Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League to recognize their contributions to the Program of Excellence over the past three decades.
The celebration also spilled over into the community, with alumni taking part in Hockey Day in Calgary by playing road hockey, flipping pancakes and signing autographs down at Olympic Plaza, kicking off the New Year and marking the 100th anniversary of the city’s recreation department.
“It’s a celebration of the game,” Bright said of why it was important for Hockey Canada to recognize the Program of Excellence’s 30th anniversary and those who helped make it happen. “These people built the program on their own backs … that’s why it’s so popular now.”
While the celebration itself was in recognition of the Program of Excellence’s past growth, “from Rochester in 1982, when the team stood on the blue line and had to sing their own anthem, to what it is today, when a massive flag is being passed around the Saddledome,” Bright said the connections made among players and alumni at this year’s reunion will help the POE continue to prosper.
“Just that network alone is positive, and it can help influence the game in new ways,” he said. “If Hockey Canada’s development department can tap into the alumni’s experience, that is a terrific resource.”
For the alumni themselves, it was a true reminder of an unbreakable bond, as thick as ice.
“They all have a respect for one another that carries over year-to-year, medal-to-medal, it didn’t matter, they were all part of something very special,” Bright said. “It’s a brotherhood that very few people can share.”